Just spent a few days in Northumberland. The ruin of Dunstanburgh Castle is one of those impressive reminders of dangerous times, human power games and the labour and ingenuity that goes into territorial defence and territorial aggression. These were built to last, 700 years ago
Then there was the beauty and alternative worldview of Alnwick Gardens. The rose garden was past its best and had been battered by rain, but there's a defiance in flowers quite different from the defiance of stone and rock against sea, wind and human determination.
Whether in the shared harmony and profusion of colour and scent, or the single glory of fragile transience shaped into such modest loveliness below, the contrast of rose and rock, garden and castle, vulnerability and power, is one of the distinctions too easily overlooked in the politics of human life. I don't mean we don't need castles in a world of fractured and changing loyalties. But the question of why we need them, is one of the moral perplexities we may be losing the will and capacity to go on interrogating.
I didn't think many of those thoughts while on holiday - they began to assert themselves when looking at photos and deciding what to keep and discard. It could be argued quite persuasively that the beauty of gardens requires time, and peace, work and investment, and the hopefulness that others won't come and build a castle on the garden site. To prevent such purposes you need strong castles to deter and defend.
But if all of life is about looking over our shoulder, identifying the dangerous 'other', then maybe we need the reassuring space and viewpoint of a garden. Worryingly, both garden and castle need walls, and the wall is both a necessary part of human civilisation, and an ambiguous symbol that tells of our need to keep danger out and what we love safe.
Roses and castles. Hmmm.